We all do it – use jargon in our grant proposals. It makes perfect sense to me, and it’s the easiest way for me to say it, right?

The fact is that while you may understand the terms specific to your nonprofit, the board members of the foundation reading your grant application might not have a clue.

In her blog post, Kristina Leroux explains why we should cut the jargon and provides 4 ideas to recognize and reduce jargon in your writing.

Check out her blog post and then comment below with your own “worst offenders.”

If you’re Facebook friends with me, you know I love animals and volunteer for a local animal rescue organization. I write several grant proposals for them every year.

Here’s where the lessons start, folks:
A good grant opportunity came up for our organization. The Director was out of town, but gave us permission to put the grant together. (That alone is a scary thought.)

Luckily we had a project on the back burner just waiting for an opportunity. We scrambled to get all the information needed, including those pesky financials as well as a source for our letter of support.

Of course, the letter of support was the hardest part of getting the proposal together, but at least we had the first contact made. I stopped by and introduced myself to the contact and offered to send him a “pre-written example” of a letter of support. He did his part and emailed the letter back quickly.

The clock was ticking and the deadline was near. We got it all together, checked one more time with the Director by email, and excitedly hit the submit button. Whew! We made it.

A few days later the finance director contacted me to say that she had heard from the granting organization. WOW, I thought.

But, here’s where things go terribly wrong:
The granting organization was checking our credentials and found we had an unfinished grant with them from several years ago! They generously gave us about a week to get that cleared up so we could be in the running with the new proposal.

Since our organization is fairly young, staff and record keeping procedures had changed over time. No one currently at the organization even knew there were outstanding grant reports.

Needless to say, the report didn’t get done in time, we didn’t get in the running for the new grant, and if my guess is right, we don’t look too credible with the granting agency.

Now, to the lessons learned from this experience:

  • Do your reports on time! Put them on your calendar and make sure you’re collecting the data needed for the report.
  • Have some fully fleshed out ideas on the back burner so if an opportunity pops up, you can be ready to pull a great proposal together.
  • Write a “sample” letter of support that you can provide to each local contact that is willing to support your project. Make it specific because they will probably copy and paste it on their letterhead and sign it. (I have a horror story about that, but we’ll save it for another day.)

I know it’s the holiday season, but since the year is closing out, please take time to look back over your year of grants and make sure everything is finalized and complete so you can start your New Year off right.


Speaking of starting the New Year off right, why not join my challenge to Make 2017 Your Best Grant Year Ever?

This email challenge is a great way for new grant writers to start planning for an organized and successful grant year. Seasoned grant writers can use it to put some structure behind their planning process.

If you want to Make 2017 Your Best Grant Year Ever, come and join the celebration. (It’s a 5-day challenge with a weekend in the middle for catch-up if needed.)

You can sign up now, but the challenge won’t start until January 10.

Oh, and did I mention its FREE?
But sign up right now as the doors on this opportunity close on January 9th.

Here’s what you should do now:
Click here to join the challenge.

That’s it. You’ll get the details in an email after you sign up!


Jo McMahan, The Grant Coach, has been in the business of writing grants and raising funds for over 25 years. Her experience includes writing grants for schools, hospitals, human needs organizations, and animal rescue groups. Her passion is teaching others how to write grants for their own organizations and helping new grant writers begin their grant writing careers.



You’ll be in hot water if you continue to believe these 3 myths about grants.

 If you’re new to the grant-writing field, you’ll soon learn that there are plenty of myths floating around out there about grants. You need to understand the truth about the myths and bust those myths for your coworkers and your board. Your life will be much easier once everyone knows the truth.

Myth 1:

Grant money is everywhere and is yours for the taking.

You’ve heard this before: “There are millions of dollars in grant money out there just waiting for you.   Get your share of the money THEY don’t want you to know about.“ Of course, nobody else knows about this money and all you have to do is buy the book to locate your share of millions for your organization. Yeh, right. There’s more to this story that THEY don’t want you to know. Let’s bust that myth.

The Truth:

Yes, there is grant money out there. The 2014 edition of Key Facts on U.S. Foundations reported that there were 86,192 foundations in the U.S. However, the trick is to find the best matches among those foundations. Not every foundation is interested in the type of services you provide or the type of clients you serve. Not all give in your geographic area. Not all give millions of dollars – some only give a few thousand, some a few hundred.

Based on these facts alone, that cuts your chances of getting those millions down considerably, doesn’t it? It is doubtful that there are millions of dollars out there just waiting for you to find them. There is a lot of hard work involved in narrowing down the field to the few that really match your needs and your mission. This may be a good conversation to have with the leaders of your organization.

Myth 2:

Grant money is free with no strings attached.

All you have to do is apply and they write you a check.   It’s simple, right? Just send in a letter or an easy application and the money rolls in. Then all you have to do is spend the money. Well, think again.

The Truth:

There are always strings attached. Many times there are public recognition expectations. You promise the funder a photo op, press release or an article in your newsletter. If it’s a large grant, there may be naming requirements and all the celebration and hoopla that go along with that.

Some funders make site visits to be sure your organization is legitimate and is getting the work done. Be prepared for a visit, and be sure your finances and records are in order.

Sometimes you have committed to meet specific objectives and must report progress to the funder. If you don’t meet the objectives, the funder might withdraw their funding. Failure to meet objectives may jeopardize future grants from that same funder.

At the very least, you will have to make some kind of final report and possibly periodic financial reports. And, don’t forget the thank-you notes and friendly updates needed to cultivate and steward the funder.

Myth 3

Once you get a grant, you can use the money any way you want.

All you have to do is apply, win the grant and you have free money to do with as you please. Once that check comes in from the funder, you are on your own. Believing this myth will get you into trouble faster than almost anything. Again, educating your organization to the truth about grants is essential to keep you and the organization legal.

The Truth:

The truth is that you must spend the money just as you promised you would in your proposal. The funder selected your organization based on those promises. You were selected to extend their reach and help them carry out their mission.

I once worked for a school district that received a large grant for a school to develop and present parenting classes. Unfortunately the school also needed a new roof. Can you guess what happened? One of our school board members asked if we could just use the grant money to work on the roof.

When you accept a grant, you agree to use the money as specified in the application. Any time you accept a grant, you are entering into a contract with the funder to use the money as you promised and as they want it used.

If you want to deviate from the promises you made, you should to get permission from the funder. If your proposed change is in the spirit of the grant, it will probably be approved. But, always ask for permission and get it in writing.

If the change is totally off course from the original proposal, contact the funder.   Explain why the initial grant proposal is no longer relevant and how your new direction is still a good fit for their investment.

Bonus Tip:

Never break the trust a funder has put in your organization. Be honest and up-front with them. They want you to succeed. No funder ever wants to take their money back. Taking back their money actually causes problems for the funder. So, be sure you are developing a positive relationship and using their money to further their mission and help your clients.

What to do next:

Want to know more about the grant writing process? Click here for my free “Quick Start Guide to Grant Writing Success.”

3 insider secrets to get you started with your first successful grant proposal.

So the boss stops by your office and says, “Congratulations, you’re our new grant writer. “ Wait, was that in your job description? Ah, yes, that would fall under “any other duties as assigned.” Well, before you quit your job or tell your boss where he or she can get off, let’s have a little talk.

Grant writing is not so hard, once you have the basics under your belt. However, there are a few mistakes that most beginning grant writers make that are sure to cause them to flounder like a fish out of water.

Let’s look at three of three mistakes and see what you need to do instead.

Mistake 1:

New grant writers forget to plan ahead.

They are so excited about their new job and so nervous about where to find these grants they are expected to procure that they forget to do the grunt work ahead of time.

What to do instead:

Meet with your supervisors – you know, the ones who want you to find those grants. Set aside some time, put those flip chart sheets up on the wall and list out all the projects they want funded. List the needs, target audience, costs, personnel, objectives, and anything else that will help your potential donor visualize this project in their mind.

Mistake 2:

New grant writers forget to get grant ready.

In other words, they are so excited, they jump right in before they’re organized and ready to write.

What to do instead:

A few hours spent now, before you sit down to write, will save you many hours later. So go around the office and gather all the information you can about your organization. Who has the organization’s budget? Is there other written material you can use to incorporate into your grants, such as a history of the organization? Where is the IRS designation letter and who has a good list of board members? Get as much information as you can, note where it came from, and get it into electronic form if possible. Then, you can start writing your proposals, knowing you have what you need.

Mistake 3.They sit in their offices banging away at their computers and hardly ever come up for air. In other words, they try to go it alone.

What to do instead:

Grant writing can be a lonely business, but it doesn’t have to be. Find a grant writing colleague in another niche to have lunch with and share horror stories. Take some classes.

Bonus Tip: Find a coach or mentor who has nothing to lose by helping you be your best.

What to do next:

Want to know more about the grant writing process? Click here for my free “Quick Start Guide to Grant Writing Success.”